On July 7, the Pittsburgh Pirates were 40-48 and an afterthought in the NL playoff picture. But the Bucs put together an 11-game winning streak, and now find themselves at 53-50, just 3.5 games back for the second NL Wild Card slot.
And the Pittsburgh front office is rewarding the team for their recent surge, by upgrading the roster.
The Pirates have officially announced — thus confirming multiple reports — that they’ve acquired closer Keona Kela from the Rangers in return for two players to be named later.
The Pirates have acquired RHP Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers in exchange for two players to be named later.
Kela has recorded 24 saves in 25 opportunities while also posting a 3.44 ERA (36.2ip/14er) and 44 strikeouts in 38 appearances with the Rangers this season. pic.twitter.com/mtrthr0jfh
— Pirates (@Pirates) July 31, 2018
The players to be named later are reportedly prospects.
Two prospects go to Texas for kela
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 31, 2018
We are waiting for the 2 players going back to Texas for Kela to be told. In the meantime, neither of them is top ss prospect Kevin Newman.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 31, 2018
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2018
Kela, 25, has been very impressive in the Texas bullpen since entering the league in 2015. In 2018, the right-hander has a 3.44 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and 1.0 fWAR in 36 2/3 innings. He’s converted 24 of 25 save attempts.
The Pirates have to also like that Kela’s velocity has climbed every season; FanGraphs has Kela’s average fastball velocity at 96.8 mph this year, and he complements that with a nasty curveball that he throws 35% of the time.
Keone Kela, 98mph Fastball (foul) and 84mph Curveball (swinging/K), Overlay. pic.twitter.com/cuhmetcERK
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 6, 2018
Keone Kela, 97mph high Fastball ("waste" pitch) and 82mph Curveball (swinging K), Overlay. pic.twitter.com/wmxfUCb6yC
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 9, 2018
It’s unlikely Kela serves as the official closer on the Pirates. Flame-throwing lefty Felipe Vazquez has been excellent in that role the last two years. And the Pirates probably don’t really care about official roles; they’re just thrilled to now have three excellent arms at the backend of their bullpen in Kela, Vazquez, and Kyle Crick (owner of a 2.05 ERA). If the Pirates can get to the seventh inning with the lead, they’re usually going to be in very good shape.
Additionally, is under team control through 2020, so the Pirates get him for 2.5 years. With that in mind, you’d think the two prospects the Rangers are getting must be legitimate prospects, or else this move is a bit puzzling on their end. It makes sense for the rebuilding Rangers to sell on relievers right now, but they’d better be getting something good back considering they’re giving up a very good, still-young reliever with multiple years of team control remaining.
Even with the Pirates’ recent remarkable run, FanGraphs gives them only a 13.3% playoff chance, and Five Thirty Eight is even less optimistic at 12%. They’re quite unlikely to make the playoffs, but who knows, and the NL Wild Card slots really appear to be up for grabs. It makes sense for the front office to take a shot, and perhaps it brings some more optimism — and butts in the seats in the PNC Park — to the Pirates’ fan base. And even if they’re left out of the playoffs this year, they’ll still have two years of Kela to work with.
UPDATE: One of the prospects going to Texas is pitcher Taylor Hearn. According to FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, Hearn is a hard-throwing left-hander with “mid-rotation” or “premium ‘pen” upside if his command can improve.
Hearn, 23, has a 3.12 ERA and 3.19 FIP this season in Double-A.
Most of Texas' farm system is built like this guy. Big-framed dude who throws hard. If the command comes he's a mid-rotation guy, if not a premium 'pen arm. https://t.co/FwRudRWDcJ
— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) July 31, 2018